Spanish maritime experts plan to reconstruct a 16th-century Basque whaling galleon, creating a replica of the oldest shipwreck ever found in Canada.
The 90-foot, three-masted San Juan sank in Red Bay in Labrador 450 years ago, just offshore of a 1560s-era whaling station in the Strait of Belle Isle.
The ship was part of a fleet that brought millions of barrels of whale oil to Europe, a treasure every bit as valuable at the time as the gold taken by Spanish conquistadors from more southerly parts of the Americas, according to Postmedia News.
Now plans are in place for the San Juan to be resurrected by a Spanish team which is seeking to construct a full-scale, seaworthy model of the original vessel.
Archaeologist Robert Grenier discovered the wreckage in 1978 and said the reconstruction project will be one of the world’s first, according to the CBC.
“Transforming these 3,000 pieces of wood we found in Red Bay, Labrador, into a very fateful, precise scientific replica of the original – this is more than a dream come true for me,” he said. “This will be the first time that the Spanish or Basque galleon is reconstructed that way in the world.”
Xabi Agote, a Basque ship expert, will be undertaking the reconstruction, the CBC added.
She sank some 30 yards from shore in Red Bay, according to a 1985 National Geographic article on the wreck.
Parks Canada underwater archeologists met last week with Spanish officials to begin sharing decades of research on the San Juan’s design and construction, according to Postmedia News.
Spain’s goal is have the new ship afloat by 2016, which will coincide with the Basque city of San Sebastian’s year as Europe’s “cultural capital.” The resurrected San Juan will serve as a floating tribute to the Basque whaling crews that traveled to the New World from the approximately 1550 until 1700.
“Right from the start, we thought this was a really, really great idea,” said Marc-André Bernier, Parks Canada’s chief of underwater archeology. “For archeologists, this is basically the ultimate final product. You’re taking all of the research from a site that’s been excavated, then you take it to the maximum in experimental archeology,” physically recreating “what is lost.”
The replica galleon is expected to travel between European cities during 2016, then set sail for Labrador and other East Coast destinations in 2017 – in time for the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation – to help spread awareness of the deep historical connection between Canada and Spain, according to Canada.com.
Bernier said that the San Juan represents a shared heritage of both Basques and Canadians.
The Red Bay wreck dates from an era before European shipbuilding had developed to the point of creating blueprints prior to construction, he added.
“There were no ships’ plans — they were built with traditional knowledge,” Bernier said. “Everything was in the shipbuilders’ minds. That’s why the data from the archeology is so critical.”
(HT: A Blog About History)